Friday, November 2, 2012

But we were taking the train

On the West Coast, the rain held steady. The road was closed over Porters Pass, but we were taking the train.

The river valley made way for broom-clad hillsides, and more rain. Then Otira, a tiny settlement that gets about two hours of sun a day in winter and has denizens rather than residents. (i love Otira!) Then the tunnel, 8 kms i think, and steep as, up and up - and out - and into the snow. It was a foot deep. It looked snug and settled. Colour washed out with it. And there we were at Arthurs Pass, to unload the second engine that had pushed us so gallantly up the hill and through the tunnel, and to play in the snow.

Only the children played, really. They ventured as far as they could and squealed and wallowed. The adults photographed themselves.

A thin, older man posed with his Indian wife. He held her under one arm and in the other hand he held a lump of snow her had formed into an oblong shape the size of a concrete block.He grinned straight at the camera, snaggle toothed, his beanie astride his big ears. She cuddled into the crook of his arm and smiled. Her Indian friend took the photo.

One woman modelled for her man to photograph her. She held little snowballs and gazed at them wide eyed. She tossed snow into the air and flung her arms wide with childlike delight. She flicked her long brown hair. Her eyes sparkled and her cheeks shone in the cold. When she came back into the carriage she brought out her tablet, and uploaded the photos immediately. Now they have gone all around the world. And i noticed that she was actually quite middle aged, quite plump, unremarkable in a crowd, as most of us are.

How did we learn to be so self aware? None of the adults played in the snow. They had a being-photographed-playing-in-the-snow experience. The snow was the vehicle for the photographs. It could have been any vehicle. And the woman with her modelling moves - how did she learn that this is how one should be photographed, as if for a fashion shoot?

Family snapshot photography has always been thoroughly stereotypical. That is part of its charm. Its artistic and sociological lessons for the viewer are usually incidental. It is an innocent art. Those involved have always known that this is for the future, that soon this moment will be a memory and that this is the memory we want preserved, that when we look at photos we are looking at younger versions of ourselves, and so by their very static nature we are reminded of the passage of time. i think even with our current instant technology the same applies today. Perhaps we just want more choice about how we present ourselves to the future, and we are more informed about the conventions of looking good. Perhaps it is a less innocent art now, but it still has its charm. Seeing ordinary people turning themselves briefly into models of glamour or goofiness is indeed charming.

Us, we photographed the snow.

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